A bill recently introduced by Assemblyman Jose Medina, (D-Riverside), a former ethnic studies teacher, seeks to make ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement in California. The bill, AB 2772 passed the Assembly floor on June 27 and is awaiting a vote in the State Senate. If passed, it would require all high school students to take one semester of ethnic studies in order to graduate, beginning in the 2023-2024 school year. The implementation of ethnic studies courses in California high schools would allow students to gain a better understanding of other cultures, inculcating them with the tolerance and respect needed to foster cultural diversity in our society.
Shaping ethnic studies to be an essential component of the statewide high school curriculum only makes sense for California schools as California is the most diverse state in the country. Given the diversity of California, it is important for all high school students to be able to connect their own heritage to learning about the various racial and ethnic groups that span the state.
The National Education Association (NEA), the United States’ largest labor union that is committed to the cause of public education, has demonstrated evidence that academic ethnic studies curricula have positive academic and social outcomes for students. Studies conducted by the NEA documented high levels of student engagement when literature by authors within the students’ ethnic background was used. The study also documented growth in literacy skills, student achievement, students’ attitudes towards learning and sense of agency.
The study also found that “43 gifted Black middle school students interviewed by the study’s authors (2000) all expressed a desire to learn more about black people in school.” Most students agreed that learning about people like themselves would make school more interesting, “and almost half agreed that they got tired of learning about white people all the time.” Students need to find the content that they are learning about interesting in order for them to actually engage with the work. If they find the content uninteresting, it is often difficult for students to actually commit their time and efforts to the material at hand. The introduction of ethnic studies courses in high school would allow these students to engage more in their learning because they would be learning about their own history through personal narratives.
The Eurocentric perspective is not as valuable to students of color because they do not encompass their own history and experiences. Students of color simply cannot relate to the Eurocentric experience and focusing on narratives other than this narrow perspective is beneficial to students of color because they can finally engage in and relate to what they are being taught. This engagement will inevitably motivate students to invest in and care for their education. Seeing themselves represented in the content that they are learning will liberate students to seek a higher education, attempt to gain positions of power and make an impact on society.
It does not make sense, considering the extent of the diversity in California’s schools, to merely teach text and works that were long ago selected by and for the Euro-American canon. Such narratives do not reflect the narratives of California students today. I and many other people of color could never relate to the text that was being taught because it was a narrative completely different from our own. How can people of color relate to Euro-American history when their own history is not represented? Without reading about themselves in history, students feel as if their own history and voices do not matter in the greater scheme of things.
America is too grounded in its teachings of history toward a Eurocentric perspective. The implementation of ethnic studies courses in high school will allow all students to learn different narratives outside of the Euro-American narratives that are generally taught. Diverse narratives will allow students to succeed in diverse universities and the diverse workforce in the increasingly diversifying country. In order for California’s education system to thrive, its students should have the knowledge of other cultural experiences and history of the different ethnic and cultural groups that form the social tapestry we live in today.